Jordan John’s Funk Parade – In Conversation

He’s young, gifted and a Torontonian. Jordan John is a household name in musician circles. He’s also a diehard Blue Jays fan, focused, style conscious, accessible and on a path of his own invention. The multi-instrumentalist goes about his career with class and a certainty most would find mirrors the Raptors Kawhi Leonard. Just give me the ball and get out of the way! I caught up with the ultra-busy artist this week for this revealing and inspired conversation that ncludes details of his just-released new album, Funk Parade.

How would you describe the vibe on Funk Parade?

An upbeat, light-hearted, backbeat-heavy offering of music for all to enjoy!  Funk Parade was made in honour of the late ’60’s/early ’70’s funk, soul & classic R&B music I grew up listening to as a child.  Rather than simply waxing a stereotypical verbatim ‘funk’ record, I instead opted to offer a respectful nod to my influential American Funk/Soul/R&B heroes and as well as paying homage to the great R&B luminaries of the legendary ‘Toronto Sound’!  In my humble opinion, some of the most intense, innovative and original funky/soulful sounds come from our own Canadian backyard!

You do a lot of local playing. Was a good portion of this material given a good go over during evening sets?

I specifically insist playing on stage and “locally” in Toronto for the purpose of honing my performance chops as well as fine tuning and/or cultivating ideas, songs and furthering our arrangements.  Unlike the conventional process for songwriters who generate their creativity in an isolated studio or a room full of writers, I tend to get 80% of my arrangement and song-writing ideas from live performance on stage.  It’s my preferred natural habitat!  Nearly all Funk Parade repertoire was cultivated and tested out on stage prior to recording it.

Your dad, Prakash has been your anchor and bassist in your band through the years. He’s experienced the six night a week grind. You’ve seemed to have arranged a playing schedule with the same consistency. How much has he influenced that discipline?

My father has always insisted that in order to sound like a band, you need to rehearse, perform and execute as a band!  There’s no number of short cuts, sight reading or secret magic tricks that will ever get you to the finely tuned level of excellence without sheer hard work.  Discipline, diligent rehearsal and practice/study on your instrument/craft will reap the true results and rewards.  That’s the tradition and experience of success my father has directly instilled in me. 

In his generation, there was a fierce amount of loyalty to the ‘band’ and a high level of pride in workmanship that was never compromised.  That’s why bands like Tower of Power, Earth, Wind & Fire, Parliament-Funkadelic, James Brown, Ray Charles etc. sound the way they do!  Tight as heck and effortlessly slick!  All those bands rehearsed every afternoon, played 6 weeks a night and matinee on the 7th day.  No ‘subbing out’ of gigs back then, haha.

I apply these exact principles towards my own band.  I find that playing a few nights a week as well as rehearsing a few days of the week allows us all to stay in shape and sharp for when we spend the better part of our year performing to a much larger audience in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

You are a multi-instrumentalist. When alone, which instrument do you pick up?

When I am alone or away from the house/on the road, the easiest and most accessible instrument to pick up is the guitar.  It’s a great ‘grab ’n go’ instrument and one of the primary reasons I learned to play guitar in the first place.  I am fortunate to have a home rehearsal space set up and equipped with my guitar, bass, A100 Hammond organ/keyboard rigs plus a full set of drums.  I’m spoiled with options, but I’d say that my favourite sounding instrument is the Hammond organ.  When working properly, the sound is unbeatable!

You’ve come gifted with an exquisite voice capable of a true reading of Marvin Gaye and a soul spin of the Reverend Al Green. How have you found your singular voice in such a grand company?

Thank you!  That is an extremely flattering compliment!  Both Marvin Gaye and Rev. Al Green are huge vocal influences on me.  So are the iconic voices of Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway and the list goes on!  Throughout my entire life, I’ve studied and listened intently to the great voices of Soul/R&B and further studied its origins through Jazz, Gospel & Blues and the soulful bridging between Country music as well as Classical.  I’ve examined the chords, melodies and rhythms on all my tapes, records and CD’s like a high-performance football player studying ‘game day’ footage and playbooks.  This daily exercise has brought me great joy and fond appreciation for the boundless ability of the greatest vocalists/instrumentalists of the 20th/21st century.  

The day Aretha died – what was going through your head?

It reinforced just how fortunate we all were to have been living in her lifetime.  To have witnessed first-hand one of the all-time greatest singers in the history of music for as long as we did was a true blessing and a gift, we should all cherish dearly.

The session? How long did it take to record Funk Parade and where?

I began recording songs for Funk Parade in late 2015 and completed the bulk of the tracking in early 2016.  It started as a very innocent, experimental hobby project - my first true attempt at an entire ‘LP’ worth of material playing all the instruments (with my father on bass).  It never was supposed to be a ‘released’ work until I went back to re-visit and re-work my first album of material back in 2017.  Reflecting on all the fulfillment, growth and development the first album brought me, I decided in late 2018 to make plans to formally release the Funk Parade LP.  The experiences of both albums gave me the confidence and assuredness to be proud of the personal successes of learning to make records and becoming competent enough to exist and work proficiently in a studio on a pro level.  Earlier this spring, I narrowed the songs down to 11 tracks and we mixed and mastered the album (mastering by the great Phil Demetro at Lacquer Channel Sound in Toronto).

All recording, tracking and mixing for both my albums were carried out at the illustrious Kensington Sound here in Toronto under the watchful care of my ace engineers Benjamin Pelchat & Vezi Tayyeb.  Two world class talents and individuals whom my father insisted I learn from and develop with.  Kensington Sound was the recording studio where I first learned about 'sound & recording’ as a child.  It’s pretty cool to think that I made an album inspired by the music of my childhood in the same room I grew up listening to music as a child!  Life is full of blessings and enriching moments.  To have been able to record this album and specifically these songs with the people I love is an experience I will forever cherish!

The underlying groove plays off the Parliament/Funkadelic. Another Orbit Room band, LMT Connection comes to mind. Both units have had long stays at the popular College street bar. Do you drop in on each other?

The underlying P-Funk groove on Funk Parade (specifically the bass playing) is the direct connection of my father, Prakash who played bass with George & the Parliament-Funkadelic!  We consider it an honour to always give the musical nod to George Clinton - the avant garde trailblazer and visionary of funk music as we know it today!

I’ve known LMT Connection quite well for most of my life!  I was 14 years old just starting on drums when I first got to play with LeRoy Emmanuel with my Dad on bass!  LeRoy was very gracious to me then and told me “Kid, you got a heavy nerve!”  Even now when I drop in to see Mark, John & LeRoy at Orbit Room, they are still as kind to me as they were back when I was just a kid starting out!  While it doesn’t happen as often as we’d like, it’s so much fun to be able sit in with them.  Playing LeRoy’s famous green Gibson ES-335 electric guitar is a real thrill.  It’s wonderful to receive such genuine and respectful praise from a trio that’s made a tremendously positive and influential impact on the Toronto music scene!

Your current band: How long have the musicians been with you?

I have been using my current band for 2 years.  It’s such a pleasure to be in the position of mentoring a young cast of promising talent ranging in their early to mid 20’s.  Combine that with the wisdom, experience and credentials of my father on bass, it’s one very special and unique vantage point to be standing in between.  Two generations on either side of me!  It constantly fuels me with inspiration and motivation.

What is it you are looking for in sidemen?

A passion for music and commitment to the art form and their instrument.  Discipline and a dedication to their journey as musicians.  There is a great deal of self fulfillment to be realized and achieved through years of hard work and dedication.  It provides the artist a much happier life rather than getting into the music business solely to be famous (which I would strongly advise against)!

When driving about town, what are you listening too?

On any given day, a solid combination of classics and contemporary material.

Classics: Prince, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Sly Stone, Parliament-Funkadelic, Phoebe Snow, James Taylor, Eagles, Miles Davis, Vince Gill, Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder, Donny Hathaway, Lewis Taylor, BB King, Oscar Peterson, Jimi Hendrix, George Benson, etc.

Contemporary: Vulfpeck, Emily King, Anderson.Paak, Jamie Woon, Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, Joey Landreth, Doyle Bramhall II, Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, Bros. Landreth, D’Angelo, Rival Sons, etc.

Your sound can be called Old Skool. Toronto of today is very much the sound of Scarborough and Brampton – beats, trap and rap. Do you ever feel lost in this current music environment?

Not at all!  Soul/R&B music has proven through the decades to be timeless.  Its influence and place in history reaches far beyond any specific territorial border and/or racial and ethnic boundaries.  Hip-Hop & rap music exist solely because of its strongly rooted origins in Jazz, Blues & classic R&B. I suppose I never feel isolated in the Greater Toronto area music environment because I travel frequently enough across the globe to places like LA, New York, London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Tokyo etc.  Cities and cultural hotbeds where the respect and emphasis on Soul & R&B music remains at the forefront of importance.

You are the consummate professional both on and off the stage. You are also sure of yourself. Do you ever have moments of uncertainty that you may have made a misstep or bypassed that sure step towards universal success?

Thank you for the kind words!  I don’t ever have any regrets or second thoughts of uncertainty about decisions I chose to make/not to make which would’ve come at the steep cost of my dignity and integrity as both an artist and human being.  I am fully aware and understanding that the entertainment industry is a business.  I am always open minded to do business so long as it is fair, ethical and within the realms of reality. 

There is no sense in being ‘famous’ if one is deprived of their humanity.  I have and continue to do a great deal of successful business with incredibly successful people in the industry and the business world at large.  Namely, David Foster, Bob Ezrin, Martin Short, Trailer Park Boys, Johnny Reid, Heather Reisman, Gerry Schwartz to name a few.  All without having to compromise my self-respect.  My sole focus above all else and as it pertains to personal fulfillment is to be grounded, accomplished, well versed, self sufficient and well rounded.  I have never once correlated ‘success in music’ to solely fame.  I’d rather be renown for being respected and competent at my craft than solely being famous for being popular and for no particular or substantial reason.

What are your hopes for Funk Parade?

To be honest, I already feel like much of what I personally set out for this record has already been achieved. I feel incredibly blessed to have recorded a 'bucket list album' much sooner than I ever anticipated.  I never envisioned being afforded an opportunity in my late 20's (at the time) making a late '60's/early '70's retro soul & classic Rhythm 'n Blues record. Specifically, one where I was given an opportunity to produce, write and play all the instruments side by side with my father who tracked some killer bass on this album!

How’s the summer schedule shaping up?

Quite busy!  Summertime is usually our busiest time of the year.  Last summer, we found ourselves playing 90 shows in 120 days.  This year looks to be quite similar.  I particularly enjoy being around Toronto during the summer months. It’s my favourite time to be immersed in all this great city has to offer!  We tend to travel overseas and to the U.S. quite often between the fall, winter and spring seasons. As a result, we try to focus on catering to the Southern Ontario region during the summer months as often as we can.  We are extremely grateful to all our fans who continue to show their loyalty and support at all our gigs at home.  I sincerely appreciate their genuine positivity and appreciation for the experience.  Live music is best!

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